Updated on 11.29.07

Simple Frugality By The Hourly Rate

Trent Hamm

Quite often on The Simple Dollar, I’ll suggest some specific frugal idea, like rewashing a Ziploc bag, and inevitably someone will complain that I’m a “cheapskate” and that I should “get a life.” I usually find such comments quite amusing, simply because these individuals aren’t looking at the bigger picture. One instance of frugality doesn’t save you very much, but when that instance doesn’t take much time, either, the effective “hourly rate” for frugality can be impressive.

Let’s take a look at that Ziploc issue more specifically to show you what I mean. Let’s hypothetically say a new Ziploc bag costs $0.20, roughly appropriate based on the many varieties of Ziploc and the quantities you can buy (we like two gallon freezer Ziplocs for meal storage, and those are far more than $0.20, but the sandwich ones are much less). Now, let’s say I need one of those bags. It takes me about six seconds to dig a new one out of the box and about twelve to grab a used one and clean it. That means that the time cost of washing and reusing a Ziploc bag is six seconds. That six seconds saves me $0.20.

For most people, that six seconds versus $0.20 doesn’t seem impressive, but let’s say you make a habit out of it and you find yourself washing, say, two Ziploc bags a week and reusing them. After 300 weeks (six years), you will have washed about 600 Ziplocs, totaling about an hour of extra time used. Each of those 600 washings saved you $0.20. Thus, the total hourly rate for washing those Ziploc bags is $120.

$120 for one hour of work. Most of the same people who would look down their nose at washing Ziploc bags would jump for that kind of pay rate.

However, it is important to note a few caveats:

First, that hourly rate is usually spread out over a long time. You only work a tiny sliver of that hour at a given time and thus are only “paid” a tiny amount of that hourly rate at any given time.

Second, it doesn’t work well unless you make it part of the routine. Since we use Ziplocs so much, we just wash them and put them in a drawer instead of throwing them away, then retrieve them out of that drawer when we need them. It’s part of our Ziploc use routine – we only add new ones when the old ones start to degrade.

Finally, it’s often hard to figure out discretely how much you’re saving. I estimated a fair amount on the Ziploc numbers above. Since we use a lot of the two gallon freezer bags, which cost about $0.34 a pop, I think our hourly rate is somewhat higher. It’s also often hard to figure out how much time you have to use to be frugal – many people forget to subtract the time that you’d invest with the “normal” way of doing things from the “frugal” way, and they also don’t accurately estimate either time that well. I timed things for this post just to figure it out, for example.

What other things can be done for a high hourly rate at home? Obviously, any effort put towards trimming your monthly spending automatically will be absolutely great, but I’m looking beyond that to active things you might do to save money. I spent some time estimating the hourly rate on several tasks and here’s what I found.

Can recycling In Iowa, we have a 5 cent can recycling program. We simply toss our cans into a separate container (no extra time) and redeem them in a redemption machine about once every three months. The average redemption takes about ten minutes and we get back about $8 or so, giving a rate of about $48/hour.

Coupon clipping I spend about fifteen minutes each week leafing through the coupon section of the Sunday Des Moines Register. On average, I pull out $4 worth of coupons for stuff we actually need. Thus, my rate for coupon clipping is about $16/hour, which is great considering it’s a lazy Sunday morning activity at the breakfast table.

Leftovers I might spend five extra minutes in the evening prepping leftovers to take to work the next day. When there, it doesn’t take any longer to heat and eat leftovers than it does to order delivered food or go out and eat (costing about $7 a pop), so my rate for the leftovers is $84/hour.

Making my own hot chocolate mix Winter is upon us, and that means a giant jar of prepared hot chocolate mix is in my future. I could buy mix from the store at a cost of about a quarter a cup, or I could make my own at home for about ten cents a cup in about fifteen minutes (I like to shave down bars of dark chocolate for our mix). Let’s say each mix will make 30 cups, and I save $0.15 a cup, a single batch saves about $4.50. Thus, my rate for hot chocolate mix is about $18/hour.

Sewing A lot of minor clothes issues can be handled with sewing, like replacing a button on a dress shirt or fixing a broken zipper (I don’t tackle anything too complicated). If I can do that task in ten minutes and it extends the life of a $50 shirt again by half (meaning I save $25 from the stitching), my rate for sewing is $150/hour.

Frugality might seem silly at first, but if you use it on things that are part of your life routine that you will do over and over again, simple frugality tasks can be very lucrative by the hour.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. cendare says:

    Hey Trent, I’d really like to see that hot chocolate recipe. It sounds excellent!

  2. I guess I’m not truly dedicated to frugality yet. I can’t imagine myself doing most of those things. Not that they are bad ideas, I just don’t know if it works for me. Plus, I’m sort of a germaphobe and I would probably never trust a washed ziplock. :)

    I wouldn’t mind the hot chocolate though.

  3. melanie says:

    I think another way to look at it is – what would you be doing if not washing out that baggie? Would you be going over to flop on the couch and watch television, in other words….doing nothing productive.

  4. Jamie says:

    Could not agree more, but I think you’re underutilizing coupons. I don’t have a week where I’m not saving $50. Try http://www.grocerygame.com. It costs, but saves a lot in the long run I think. Failing that, a simple cut everything you might use and sort it well saves a ton too.

  5. Diane says:

    I would love to see the hot chocolate recipe if you have time to post.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I was also going to ask for the hot chocolate recipe. I’m a huge fan of chocolate!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Hot Chocolate Mix recipe. YES! Please share!

  8. That’s a great way of looking at the equation Trent. When I’m trying to remember to do the little things I remind myself of larger organizations that make a lot of money by doing little things many times … like the government and a 0.5% tax increase … it doesn’t seem like a lot for each person but it makes them billions when its a whole country! Now I don’t expect to save billions but I do expect to save hundreds or thousands which is fine by me and definitely worth the effort.


  9. Crys says:

    I started washing my ziplock bags as well. But I’ve found that those plastic take-home containers (or any small tupperware container) works just as well for sandwiches and such. And last a lot longer use after use.

  10. kevin says:

    I stopped using ziplock bags, but for an environmental reason. I realized I was using two plastic bags every day for my lunch. Instead, I put my snacks in those little ziplock brand plastic containers. I’ve been doing this for over a year now…I have 4 containers, so I can go two days without washing them. When I do wash them, I’m doing dishes anyways, so what’s a few extra tiny things in the sink?

    I figure the plastic involved in making 4 of those little containers is less than the amount of plastic in a year’s worth of ziplock bags, so hopefully I’m doing some good.

  11. Lise says:

    In regards to making your own hot chocolate mix: it sounds delicious, but I understand the cost of powdered milk has gone up exponentially (there was an article on Wise Bread about this), which may make this less effective. Or do you not use this? I realize now that I’ve said this that you may be making a distinction between hot chocolate (shave down bars of dark chocolate and dissolve in milk) and hot cocoa (cocoa powder + powdered milk).

  12. Dave says:

    I would like to see that hot chocolate recipe as well. It sounds really flavorful. I usually reuse/wash about 75% of my ziplock bags. There are some I will not bother with, like when I marinate raw chicken breasts. Mostly because I am not sure how to properly sanitize a ziplock after using it with raw meat. If anyone knows a fast way to sanitize a ziplock, please let me know.

  13. lilacorchid says:

    Chiming in with another request for the hot chocolate reciepe!

  14. Sandy says:

    Is there a 99 cent store in your area? That’s where I get my ziplock bags — 50 of them for 99 cents.

  15. JReed says:

    Alot of times there are coupons for the plastic reusable containers! We haven’t bought any form of plastic food bags for years…we take our lunch every day…our beverages are taken in washable plastic jugs or hot/cold thermos. For storing leftovers we use a bowl with a plate on top. There always comes a day where the people who tell us to get a life wish they had the money that they frittered away or threw away on “disposables”. It’s funny but if you talk to an older people about the “neat ways to be frugal” they can’t comprehend what the fuss is about. They have always reused, saved, shopped carefully and stretched their budgets.

  16. Lauri says:

    Chiming in for the hot chocolate recipe as well!! (I’m thinking about Xmas gifts!)

  17. Heidi says:

    I need to become a coupon clipper – I just figured out that so far this year I have spent about $350 per month on groceries for just two people.

    I also prefer the plastic containers to ziplock bags. I store single servings of meals like lasagna and chicken & noodles in these containers and pop them in the freezer. I take them to work on days I don’t have leftovers in the fridge.

  18. Rae says:

    The problem with coupons is they’re generally for name-brand, packaged, prepared foods – not really what I want to feed my family! If you try to eat mostly whole grains, fresh vegetables, and sustainably raised meat, there aren’t a whole lot of coupons for that sort of thing.

  19. Brendan says:

    Growing up my family always washed ziplocks if they were in re-usable condition but my husband would rather reduce the “clutter” and can’t stand seeing a drying ziplock out in the open… Anyone have a good, discreet way to reuse ziplogs AND keep the household peace?

    Plus another request vote for posting the hot chocolate recipe! Pretty please?

  20. claymeadow says:

    I’m not sure if it’s cost effective or not but we reuse plastic knives, forks, spoons, plates, and such every chance we get. I converted the wifey and she has the kids doing it too.

    I get negative comments from the family all the time as I load them into the dishwasher or clean them in the sink like after a party or something. To which I respond, “have you looked at the quality of these things lately?”

    I can’t believe that people just use these high performance plastics just once and throw them away. It’s not like the old days where they chip after the first use. We have some items in our drawers that get reused for many months and beyond. Not to mention I like to marvel at the idea of producing less landfill waste, although we have virtually unlimited haul service.

  21. vh says:

    This is one of the funniest posts I’ve read on your site! Just great.

    Seriously, though: it throws some light on why some of us feel so cranky when our time is wasted with punch-a-button telephone mazes that keep you on hold forever, by telephone solicitors, in filling out stupid forms, and with other nuisances: a person’s time really IS valuable.

    [ahem] Have you ever thought of washing the ziplock baggies in the clothes washer? Oh, yes…it works! Turn them inside out, toss the kitchen towels for some extra sloshing action, and set the washer to the shortest “gentle” cycle. For good measure, let the load soak in the detergent for a few minutes before starting the wash cycle.

    With Dave & FinanceAndFat, I also worry about just how clean you can get those things in a 20-second rinsing. And I’d never reuse one that contained raw meat. To avoid waste, I try to store that sort of stuff in a bowl or plastic box.

    However, the plastic containers are a nuisance to store…like wire coathangers, they seem to spawn in the dark. And one advantage to the ziplocks is that you can stack them flat in the freezer, allowing you to easily preserve single meals of things like stew and soup, and one- or two-cup portions of home-made chicken and beef broth.

  22. I don’t know how much it would affect the bottom line, but you do also have to take into account the amount of water and soap you use to wash it. Not much, but it makes a difference. Also, I used to do this in the past (when I was in school and brought lunch), and I don’t recall it taking just 6 seconds…

  23. Sandy says:

    I’m with Kevin, I rarely use plastic bags for environmental reasons and tend to use small containers for my children’s lunches (yes, they can be trained that not everything goes in the trash!) I wrap their sandwiches in wax paper.
    For those times that we do use a plastic bag, it gets washed many times before it makes it’s way to the trash. thanks, Trent for figuring out for me what years of doing this adds up to! It’s been habit for 15 years or so, so it’s nice to know that it actually can be given an economic value!
    Even at 50 for a dollar, I feel guilty about adding to landfills, and I always wonder how plastic wrap against my kids food has health effects, so we do our best to avoid!
    Oh…here’s a cheapskate activity that’s fun! When you crack open a new box of______(insert plastic bags, aluminum foil, wax paper, some dtergents, etc..)write the date that you start using the item on the box, and see how far you can go without buying a new box of it. Then the next time, see if you can do better! (Write the length of time on the new box!) I have a box of aluminum foil (yes, I wash that, too!)that is still going strong, and the date is Feb. 2006. Yes, I realize it’s extreme, but saving does take place in many ways, and as a stay home mom all these years,(we’re one of those low cost of living midwestern families, too) I try to do whatever I can to save money!

  24. Artie Kuhn says:

    Beware: I saw an article on TV with some germ experts that said washing ziplocks was a horrible idea because their type of plastic hangs onto bacteria during washing and easily transmits it back into the new food. I don’t reuse, but if I did, I’d be sure that I only store things like chips or bread in them if I’m going to reuse. Certainly not uncooked meat or cheeses. Oh, and bring on that chocolate recipe!

  25. Johanna says:

    @Rae: Have you seen mambosprouts.com? They have coupons for a lot of the items/brands you find at natural foods stores. It’s still all for packaged and processed foods as opposed to fresh, but I use them a lot for things like tofu, tea, seasonings, and so forth.

    You can print out e-coupons from their site, or pick up booklets of paper coupons from Whole Foods or a few other stores (although you can use them anywhere) – sometimes you have to look around a bit for them, though, since the stores don’t exactly advertize their presence.

  26. klf says:

    to brendan: I airdry my ziploc baggies in the empty top rack of my dishwasher. The baggies fit perfectly around 3 or 4 of the “spokes” and dry quickly, and out of sight at the same time.

    I’ve washed my baggies out for years and never thought about it, but then I grew up with parents who were very frugal. My dad made my mom lunch everyday to take to work and she would bring the baggies and the paper lunch bag home every day. the baggies would be washed out and the paper lunch bag reused until it fell apart. And this was way back in the 1970’s and 80’s!

    Oh, and my dad made my lunch everyday in elementary and high school, too. :)

    but now I also use the sandwich containers, etc. Less waste for the environment overall.

  27. Beth says:

    I think reusing bags (yep, me too!) is just another example of being mindful about the things in our lives. Why chuck out a perfectly good bag, only to replace it with yet another perfectly good bag?

    I’ve gotten in the habit of taking bags to the grocery store, instead of getting new plastic produce bags every time I shop. I REALLY appreciate the reduced clutter in my bag drawer!

    I store almost everything in glass pyrex containers with plastic lids, so I actually don’t use my ziplocks much at all. I’ve had the same boxes of bags/foil/wax paper/plastic wrap for literally years.

  28. ajwilson says:

    Your missing the point! Don’t use plastic because it’s an environmental evil, not to mention the leaching of these chemicals into the human body…which gets worse as you wash and re-use plastic Ziplock bags…the bags are designed for one-time usage ONLY!

    Try to use re-usable glass or stainless steel containers instead…you can wash them all you want…no leaching of chemicals…and no need to re-purchase for the rest of your life (which no doubt will be longer because you’ve stopped using plastic).

  29. Terri says:

    I find it hard to believe it only takes 12 seconds to wash a ziplock bag and get it clean… That said, this is an interesting article. Because of the ick factor, I don’t wash bags, but instead bought containers that all stack neatly together. The lids even lock together and snap into the bottems of the containers, so it doesn’t get to be quite the mess most plastic containers get. These have lasted us four years, and are still going strong. Much less mess, and they fit in the dishwasher nicely.

  30. 10KPortfolio says:

    I really enjoy making tea. I purchased a large container of tea leaves and brew at home. This saves me a bunch of money and it gives some variety to my home refreshments.

  31. Jen says:

    we go the middle of the road on this one. We’ll recycle a bag that has had bread in it, or sometimes I’ll just add more crackers or cereal to the car snack bag for my toddler son. But generally, that’s the extent of our baggie reuse. But I also reuse aluminum foil if it’s easily cleaned too.

    I also agree with the posters that have said to use reusable containers instead. That’s where we put most of out leftovers and lunches. I’ve had the same set of reusable containers for at least 10yrs, and they’re used daily.

    Everyone should know how to do basic maintenance sewing. You don’t need a machine to sew on a button, repair a hem or seam, or darn a sock. It saves a lot of time (and money since you’re not shopping for new clothes) and is a basic life skill in my opinion like cooking, cleaning, and changing a flat.

  32. Anna says:

    When I was growing up, we used paper napkins at family meals. We were required to blot
    discreetly, not wipe lavishly, because each paper napkin had to last for several meals. When we put out new paper napkins, each neatly folded napkin had the initials of its person penciled on top, so we didn’t catch each other’s germs.

    And why didn’t we use cloth napkins, a one-time expense, you may ask? When company came, we did. But for everyday use, cloth napkins were too labor-intensive. My mother was extremely busy and didn’t have time to iron them. Much later, visiting a friend’s house, where the napkins were made of crinkle cotton that didn’t have to be ironed, I thought this was something we could have done. But by then it was too late.

    (I have a feeling that in telling this tale I am shouting down the vast and echoing distance from the 19th century, or perhaps the 18th.)

  33. Jean says:

    Not to mention the relaxing factor — I like sewing.

    I don’t use hot cocoa mix — it’s better to have plain cocoa on hand for other baking needs, and heat up milk to make real rich cocoa. A mug of milk, 2 tablespoons Hershey’s cocoa, 2 tablespoons sugar, a dash of salt and drop or two of vanilla. The cocoa doesn’t want to incorporate, so you have to use a wisk to blend over medium heat. Don’t scorch the milk…. serve. Adjust to taste — you might like it sweeter.

  34. timdau says:

    I have virtually given up on zip lock bags. I have totally given up on plastic containers. I won’t get into why plastic is bad.

    Instead I use glass or ceramic. For the things I need to heat up, I cover them with a napkin that I then use to eat with.

    I read an article suggesting a ceramic coffee mug needs to be used 1000+ times before it breaks even, energy wise and energy cost wise, with a styrofoam cup. And around 500 times for a glass mug. The article didn’t address the environmental impact differences.

    I would suggest that the zip lock bag is analogous with the styrofoam cup. I need to use my ceramic containers 1000+ times and my glass containers 500+ times.

    BUT! I expect to use them, on average, WAY more than a thousand times. For the rest of my life. So less environmental impact, less energy use, and less total cost! Win Win Win.

  35. Dana says:

    Also chiming in for your mix recipe! I don’t care for coffee, and I go through cocoa packets like socks. I’d love a portable homemade mixture to store in my desk at work.

  36. Erin says:

    At the risk of sounding gross, I reuse my ziplocs for several days without washing them. I just make sure the same thing goes in each baggy every day. My restricted diet prevents me from having a lot of lunch variety, so my sides are always the same. The only time I won’t reuse a baggy is if it’s had lunchmeat in it. But my tortilla can happily be in the same baggy two days in a row, as can my chips, carrots, chocolate, almonds, and lettuce rolled in a paper towel.

  37. Kat says:

    I use the reusable containers I get from take out. A lot of places in my area are going towards plastic resealable containers. I wash them and reuse. They store easily in my “tupperware” drawer and since we don’t eat out too often, I am not overwhelmed with them. I also don’t even bother wrapping my sandwich in plastic or wax. It is going in a container, so it is already packaged.
    When I take leftovers, everyone assumes it is from a restaurant and are surprised to learn it is from home!

  38. Kay says:

    The can deposit is $.10 here in Michigan. We’re tapering off of pop at home, but for now we rinse and dry each can before popping it into a bag. When enough have accumulated, our 14 year old walks to a nearby store to return them. He gets to pocket the cash, which has taught him some lessons about how small amounts can add up (even if each dime was a deposit paid in advance by us, not true profit).

    We save and reuse most plastic containers — it looks like our freezer is full of Cool Whip, feta cheese, and whipped butter if you don’t read the masking-tape labels — and wash and reuse large Ziploc bags as long as the contents weren’t risky, like marinating chicken. Sandwich bags aren’t worth fussing over with the prices I can get by stacking coupons and sales or using bargain brands.

  39. DivaJean says:

    This sounds too familiar to me- did you lift this article from one of the Tightwad Gazette books?

  40. Allie says:

    Another plea for the cocoa recipe! My husband goes through so much hot cocoa in the winter. It used to be a lot cheaper but not this year.

    I definitely wouldn’t save a baggie that had any kind of meat in it. You never know what kinds of bacteria could be breeding in there. For marinating chicken, I usually use a glass bowl with a lid that can be sterilized easier.

    Great experiment to see how long it takes to go through a box of bags or foil. I’ll have to try that. I’ve been wondering how long the plastic wrap and ziplocs have been in my drawer!

  41. Julie says:

    I’m very curious about why you think these are valuable things to do, but in your earlier article about lightbulbs, you determined that it usually wasn’t worth it to turn off the lights. I realize that it takes a little longer and saves a less money than these things, but what about in the long run?

  42. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “This sounds too familiar to me- did you lift this article from one of the Tightwad Gazette books?”

    I wouldn’t be shocked if something similar is in there. It’s a 1,000 page tome of specific frugal topics.

  43. turbogeek says:

    I love it. I, too, used to rinse out baggies, but switched to the little plastic containers that sandwiches fit in conveniently.

    To up the ‘tightwad ante’, try this one on for size. I keep my grocery sacks to take my lunch in, which is pretty common. I re-use those as well until they get dirty or torn. How’s that for cheap? I re-use something I get for free.

    Tightwad is a life-choice, and an intentional state of mind. :)

  44. I’m working to completely eliminate all plastic purchases if possible – both for frugality and environmental reasons.

    I re-use all kinds of plastics instead of throwing them out and find I can generally meet my needs for plastic if I’m careful.

    1. I reuse bread bags instead of plastic bags.
    2. I reuse plastic grocery bags as garbage bags.
    3. I reuse the thin plastic that vegatables come in at the grocery store after washing.
    4. I reuse plastic containers from take out or other foods I buy.
    5. When re-heating in the microwave, I cover things with another plate instead of using plastic wrap.

    If you’re careful, you’ll find you can eliminate almost all your needs for purchasing plastic at all.

  45. The big area where we can save on money as well as help the environment,is reducing our transportation costs.

    Although I agree that frugality should be applied in many areas, I think we should go about it smartly as well. Skimping on micro stuff can be a little downer at times.

  46. Frances says:

    I recently began washing my plastic baggies all at once (usually 2 weeks’ worth) in a soapy water sink and a rinse water sink. I find I’m wasting far less water and time rinsing the bags this way.

    To those of you who reuse old food containers for leftovers: beware of microwaving them. I think it puts plastic chemicals in the food. We’ve recently made the switch to pyrex containers so we won’t have that risk (for hot foods, anyway – cold and room temperature items like grapes, yogurt, and chips still go in the plastic containers).

  47. Martha says:

    Washing a ziplock baggie that’s had raw meat in it is no harder than washing a plate that’s had raw meat on it. After all, the plastic isn’t absorbent. Just turn it inside out, hold it under a stream of hot water, soap it up. I can guarantee I’ve never had any problem with it. I can’t fathom people who don’t wash ziplock bags. It’s like throwing away your dishes after you’ve used them once. I grew up doing it, and I was actually shocked when I heard that some people throw them away after the first use. Sorry to sound judgmental — I don’t mean that — but it just seems natural to keep using something as long as it’s useful.

  48. JT says:

    I agree with Frances, I bought a set of the Pyrex containers and they serve me very well. The lids are super snug so when I bring soup, etc. for lunch I don’t have any worries about the lid popping off in transit. They are freezer safe and very easy to clean (dishwasher safe).

    I only use the plastic containers for sandwiches because of the shape (because the Pyrex set I have is round).

  49. Rob in Madrid says:

    For you Canadians out there last trip home I discovered Maxwell House Singles, and at (last trip home anyways) 33 cents a cup a third or less a than a cup of Timmys, and surprisingly just as good. 2 years ago I did a daily Timmys run, last time I went maybe twice over 3 weeks. Also not idling your car waiting in the drive through does wonders for keeping the smog down in the summer.

  50. Kim says:

    It would have been really nice for you to at least credit the Tightwad gazette for this advice in some form. This whole article is basically a rewrite of several passages in Amy’s book. You know that because you have talked about the book several times in the past. I have no problem reading regurgitated advice (after all, how many ways can you spin it). Please, however, have the courtesy of giving the true author her deserved credit. If someone started passing off rewrites of the simple dollar as original work, you’d be quite upset!

  51. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Kim: I haven’t looked at the Tightwad Gazette in months. For curiosity’s sake, I pulled out The Complete Tightwad Gazette just now, flipped to the index, and looked up Ziploc bags. There were two articles on the topic, one on pages 48 and 49 and another on page 62. The one on pages 48 and 49 is a lengthy discussion of how to wash out Ziplocs – how to find holes and identifying worn out bags. The other one is a one sentence mention of washing out bags. I kept looking for another example of “plagarism” and all I could find is on page 104, where she mentions the hourly rate of long, time-consuming tasks like investing five hours in making a Halloween costume for her child or has her husband make a special trip to the bulk grocery store to buy peanut butter.

    Kindly do your research before accusing me of plagarism. I’ve never plagarized in my life and I’m not about to start.

  52. MO says:

    go trent go!!!!!!

  53. Neil says:

    Have you looked into the cost of the plastic bags in relation to how long they last? I have never had a zip lock bag last through 600 washes. A good quality storage container set will last for years if properly cared for. I purchased a 20 pack of storage containers for about $20 so figure about $1 a piece. I have had them for longer than I can remember and I don’t even need to buy zip lock bags because of the usefulness of the storage containers. Plus I don’t need to worry about them leaking or not sealing properly.

    By the way can you please post you home made hot chocolate recipe?

  54. Jess says:

    Something I always reuse is tin foil. I bought a HUGE roll of it at Costco a few years ago, but since I have generally 2-5 pieces just waiting to be reused I generally reuse before I tear off another sheet.

    I don’t understand plastic wrap. I can never get it to stick to anything but itself and it just give me a headache trying to use the stuff.

  55. Frugal Bachelor is somewhat bored with PF Blog articles which amount to “do X instead of buying Y to save Z”. Instead he would like to see more examples of “buy Y instead of doing X to save Z”, since they seem to be the exception. Example: Y is “washing machine”, and X is “launder clothes by hand”. Probably most readers have invested in a washing machine to wash their clothes, but what is the actual $ savings of doing so? What would be the advice to someone who is washing their clothes by hand? What other “time wasters” do we have in our lives where we could save money/time by investing in technology?

  56. Joyce says:

    Just to add to the discussion: if your grocery store gives you credit for bringing your own bags, then consider that you’re paying them to use theirs.
    Also these: http://www.wrap-n-mat.com/fabrics.php are pretty cool.

  57. Shevy says:

    In a book etitled “Stop Working…Start Living” and subtitled “How I retired at the age of 36…without winning the lottery” Dianne Nahirny offers up a whole slew of ultra-frugal suggestions, some of which I found somewhat icky.

    Examples: reusing foam shoulder pads after they went out of style by using them as cosmetic sponges or packaging wrap, buying liquid milk in bags that she washes out and uses in place of ziplock bags (she holds them closed with plastic tags from bread bags or rubber bands the mailman drops on her porch) and throwing styrofoam meat trays up in her attic as insulation or fitting them behind wall outlets instead of using foam gaskets.

    While I find it inspiring that she retired (or semi-retired) at a young age, I’m bothered by these unsanitary sounding suggestions.

    Her point however is well taken. By finding our own highly individual ways that each of us can be more frugal, we can free up money to devote to paying down debt or investing. Every dollar we save (by not spending them on disposable items) is worth much more than a dollar earned (exactly how much depends on your tax rate).

    Would you turn down a big bonus at work or a raise? Of course not. Trent (and Dianne) are suggesting ways we can get the equivalent!

  58. Nicole says:

    Shevy, So I agree with you that using an old shoulder pad as a cosmetic applicator is a little icky…but what’s so bad about washing and re-using a milk bag? The plastic on those things is much thicker (hance lasts longer) than ziplock baggies. My family has been using these bags for generations (okay, the technique, not the bags themselves) to store food in lunches and the freezer.

  59. vh says:

    Pyrex containers, eh? It’s been a while since any of those have been around the house, because…why? the plastic stuff kind of pushed them out.

    (What marketing campaigns could’ve caused a thing like that?)

    Now that commenters mention it, though, as soon as I’ve used the last few plastic bags a zillion times, I’m gonna buy a new set of Pyrex. So much nicer! And given the recent studies about how soft plastic emits some very, very scary chemicals, glass really DOES feel a lot safer than plastic around food, microwave or no microwave. Thanks, folks!

  60. sunshine says:

    As another vote against the plagiarism idea: Amy D. could have got that idea from anywhere herself. Mary Hunt, I’m sure, would suggest something of the kind, as would other frugal gurus. Also, you’ll (generally speaking) notice that several of the commentors mentioned the process of rewashing plastic bags for “years.” I would imagine some of that started out before Amy D. wrote her newsletters and books. I know my Mom started it w/o having read the TG and so did my Depression-era adopted Aunt who still has those shower-cap looking wraps that Saran Wrap put out in, like, the 80s (or earlier, I haven’t been able to tell)!

  61. BigRed says:

    YOu mentioned sewing on buttons–when I was in grad school, and as a young mom home with kids, I did simple alterations (hemming, buttons, zippers, etc.) for friends to make some extra dough (hubby was in grad school at that time, and we lived on less than $10K/year–not sure how we did it, but thank God for WIC!). Folks would gladly pay me $2 to sew on a button and $25 to hem a skirt–the dry cleaner charged $5 per button, and $50 for a hemming! I almost felt guilty getting this, but it was a good example of a win-win: my friends got quality repairs for half the cost, I got payment for services rendered. I hemmed a set of curtains for our landlord for $150–saved him a significant amount in professional services.

    It is remarkable how a skill learned when you are 7 years old can carry through life! My grandma would have been proud :)

  62. Sandy says:

    I think that comparing Trent’s work to Amy’s doesn’t do any good. Nearly all of the ideas Trent writes about have been brought up in other books and households for generations. It’s just the presentation of these ideas is in a different way. With the internet, more people can get the same idea faster and then comment…that’s a new way of doing what she did 20 years ago before the internet. In fact, I’m sure that she would be writing a blog like this and it would be very successful were she to come out of hiding! (Amy…are you out there?)
    Thanks everyone for all your great tightwad ideas!

  63. Nicole says:

    We reuse everything in our house – everything. We don’t use plastic bags at the grocery store. instead we use canvas or those large canvas insulated cooler bags you can get at Costco for 2/$10 sometimes. They last forever and keep everything nice and cold.

    We live in an apartment and with two dogs that have to do their business on the sidewalk we actually have to make the rounds to the neighbors frequently to round up sacks for their walks. Newspaper bags, giant Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. We take them all.

  64. Allie says:

    Amy D. has several books out. I do believe the ziploc bag article was in one of them. Probably just not the one Trent has.
    Thanks Trent for looking to see if you had accidentally used her material. It’s so nice to know people are honest in this way.
    P.S. Still waiting for the cocoa recipe!! :)

  65. leslie says:

    Wow! Great article and comments! A friend sent me a link to your site.
    1. Ziploc bags–We love’em and reuse any non-icky ones (like from meat), but what I do to cut down on the ick factor is that after washing them I shake off excess water over the sink, flatten them and place them in the freezer to “dry”; I love this because I don’t have them hanging around the kitchen while drying; when I need one I just grab it out of the freezer and shake off the frozen crystals.
    2. A link to My Favorite Hot Cocoa Mix which was tweaked to “perfection” (for our family) by my daughter:
    We love this mix, but sometimes only the real stuff will do with real milk and chocolate.
    3. Sewing – My Grandma grew up in the depression. She taught me “a stitch in time saves nine; if you will check your clothing/shoes and do little repairs as needed your clothes will last longer. Some of my favorite ways to extend the life of my clothing is to use the little zippered net bags (cost about $1. each) for sweaters/knits/delicates, then hang or dry these things flat; polish/clean your shoes weekly; wash like items — not your jeans and white socks together; use mild laundry soap; I only use the dryer for about 10 minutes for my dress clothes, then hang to dry–saves $$ and your clothes last longer.

    Love your blog!

  66. Sandy says:

    For those of you waiting for Trent’s hot cocoa mix, and can’t wait another minute…Amy D has a great recipe in her Tightwad Gazette book…along with a cost analysis to boot!

  67. Lloyd says:

    Actually, your equivalent hourly pay is greater. Typically when you work money is withheld for taxes and benefits. In my case, after withholding for federal and state income tax, social security and medicare, group term life insurance, and medical insurance, my net pay is about 2/3 of my gross pay. If I’m saving $18/hour, I’m actually “earning” $27/hour (or a little less, since the non-payment to social security eventually reduces my social security benefit).

  68. Marcy says:

    Great article Trent! One of the best I’ve read in a while. I can’t say that washing out baggies is an orriginal idea, as evidenced by these posts, and it’s a practice that I’ve witnessed as a kid (and do myself at times). There are a lot of negative attitudes regarding ‘frugalism’. It’s threatening to people for some reason and they’l do anything they can to attack you because they are so miserable. But I enjoy your work and have saved some $ from your ideas Trent so thanks for sharing your ideas with us! Nevermind the s***heads that are miserable. I’m always looking for ways to use and re-use anything, even things I got for free. I’ve got all kinds of ghetto tupperware (the coolwhip containers, etc.) and I even use newspaper as weatherstripping. Fold it up and stuff it in the cracks in your windows, doors, etc. It’s free and works. You can even tape it down but that will cost a few cents. Sometimes I dry out paper towels. For instance, if I dry a dish with a paper towel and dry it out, I can use it to clean the bathroom mirror, then toss it. Those produce bags fit some of my trash cans perfectly and sometimes an extra bag or 2 winds up in my cart…free trash bags. I also take advantage of the offerings in my community. Food pantries, clothing banks that are like goodwill but free. Most of my clothes and furniture/housewares were free and people thing I’m well off when they look at my home and how I dress. Well I guess I’m rich in spirit. Frugality is what you make it. You can wash out your ziplock bags and groan about it or be happy that your saving a few cents that add up over time.

  69. Henry Bemis says:

    Delicious Hot Chocolate Recipe
    -Heat a cup of milk to a boil (microwave a minute, stove time, a few seconds)
    -Pour milk in a mug and add a couple of squares of left over or gourmet chocolate
    -stir vigorously
    -Delicious hot chocolate everytime

  70. Penny says:

    I don’t buy zip lock bags I use pyrex because of all the information about the chemicals in the plastics. Love your blogs and “The Simple Dollar” Good work Trent.

  71. Audi says:

    I’d like to present some arguments from single-use Ziploc users like myself, since the comments here seem clustered towards the other point of view. I think that washing ziploc bags is cheap rather than frugal, even if washing them would pay a rate of $120 per hour. Here are my reasons why:

    (1) I think the main reason washing Ziploc bags is considered cheap by people like me is because, in our minds, what you pay for when you buy a box of Ziploc bags is their disposable convenience. While we may realize that each bag is not materially worth the $0.02 or $0.20 in one use, we purchase them for situations when the time and effort saved by disposing the bag would be worth more. Since there are better non-disposable ways to store food, such as with reusable containers, washing Ziploc bags to reuse them misses the point.

    (2) Washing Ziploc bags is not convenient. While $120 is higher than my pay rate at work, I greatly prefer what I do at work to washing plastic bags. For 2 cents, I’m simply not willing to keep track of a “dirty, soiled” object for seconds, minutes, or hours, depending, bring it to a sink, wash it, and then have it dry in rather premium counter/dish-rack/freezer space. $120 to wash 600 baggies? No thanks, if the job needs to be done I would rather hire Ziploc for the pristine bags, which is exactly what I do when I buy a new box.

    (3) There is a psychological cost to washing Ziploc bags, even if it becomes a routine in your household. One more thing cluttering your mind, one more thing you need to do before you are ‘free’. Even if it doesn’t take long to wash a baggie, how valuable is the lightness of being associated with just being able to throw it away? Taking into account the psychological expense, $120 for an hour of washing all at once is much less expensive than keeping track of your Ziploc baggies over years and years. (In an argument for flippantly not conserving Ziploc baggies for “lightness of being”, I mainly consider those 2 cent sandwich bags. The sturdier gallon-size 20-cent bags, I think, are used more judiciously even by a wasteful Ziploc single-user since 20 cents is almost a quarter..)

    (4) Ziploc bags aren’t designed well for washing. It is hard to clean out the corners, which leak over time, and unless you are really diligent, there is an oily residue left behind. My grandma washes Ziploc bags and taking something from a filmy, streaked Ziploc bag as I’ve observed her do is indeed icky!

    And to be clear that I am a somewhat sensible person even from more conservative points of view, I will end by saying that I agree Ziploc bags are environmentally irresponsible and rather expensive so-called ‘disposable’ items. This is why I mainly use Ziploc bags to store non-food stuffs (like Christmas ornaments or toiletries) or foods I need to pack over and over again but which I don’t feel requires washing or keeping track of between uses (such as pretzels for the car or onions in the vegetable compartment of the fridge.) But I also use Ziploc bags disposably for convenience whenever it is convenient which is the end of my two cents..

  72. Sandy says:

    As for the environmental perspective, I guess my thought is that people don’t use them only for those kinds of non-food items, but also a child whose mom packs lunch, and the child may have 3-4 seperate plastic baggies, every day, which go directly in the trash after lunch. That’s some 600-800 per school year, per child. Sorry…that’s way beyond my environmental guilt issue. I have 2 children, and that would just be an innapropriate lesson for me to teach them. Children learn from their parents that throwing things away is much easier and convenient. And it does go somewhere…my daughter brought home a recycling paper that had the environmental impact of throwing things away…plastic baggies will be arounf for upwards of 500 years. I guess I prefer to teach my children that 1) we are responsible for what trash we, as individuals, generate, and 2) that if times do get tight financially for them in their future, they will have the mental skill set to think outside the box in ways to save some money.
    I remember that as a college student I was quick to use paper towels for all messes and then just toss it…it takes no thought, and I had never been shown another way. My roommate, who was working her way through college and watching every penny, handed me a rag, and said something to the effect “Those paper towels cost us money, this rag is free to use! Use the rag next time!!!” So, she had an effect on me that she will never know, and helped me to rethink single use of ANYTHING.

  73. Kimberly says:

    I have spent part of my career in the pharmaceutical industry working specifically in the package design and development field. You need to be very careful about which plastic products you wash and reuse. Some of them will break down with exposure to detergents. For example, the International Bottled Water Association has recommended that disposable drinking water bottles be used only once. In a preliminary University of Idaho study, it was observed that repeated washing accelerated the breakdown of polyethylene therephthalate (PETE), potentially releasing chemicals into the fluid stored in the bottle.

    Based on this type of finding, you should NOT wash PETE storage bags (such as Ziploc brand) for reuse with food items. It’s far better to buy Ziploc’s reusable containers. They last longer, too.

  74. DivaJean says:

    I just don’t understand why so many ziplock bags are needed. I prefer to pack lunches in plastic containers- a one time purchase meant to be washed and reused–rather than trying to articifically extend the use of something meant to be disposable. That being said- we do use SOME ziplock bags for toddler snacks in the diaper bag (but again- we could just as easily use an empty margarine container with a lid!)and for packing on hubby’s 3x/year trips to CHicago for church business.

  75. geoff says:

    At my costco zip lock bags are about 1.5 cents. That would bring the hourly rate to $7.5 which less far less worth it.

  76. Printable Grocery Coupon Guru says:

    Hi Trent, great information. As Johanna stated Mambo Sprouts has savings on natural and organic foods. They ship in the mail if you are in region (I happen to be) and send out biweekly savings via email. Frugality during these times is essential to maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. All these comments are great have been more than helpful

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *